TV OS battle brews, do consumers care?

A battle for the living room is playing out, with several players working to build smart TV operating systems that aim to enhance the user experience while also presenting new business and revenue opportunities, namely though data and advertising.

But while established players including Roku, Vizio, tech giants Google and Amazon, and electronics makers Samsung and LG, as well as newer entrants like Xumo, Xperi’s TiVo and VIDAA are building software systems to cater to both viewer and advertiser needs – the question arises, do consumers care?

Platform executives weighed in on the topic this week during a supersession at the StreamTV Show in Denver, hosted by TVREV analyst and co-founder Alan Wolk.

Before getting to consumer awareness, it’s worth noting there are clear reasons for companies pursuing TVOS ambitions and competing for market share, where as Wolk noted, it’s not a winner-takes-all game.  

Teeing up the session, Wolk called out benefits of owning the OS, including controlling data on viewing as well as user interface and experiences that play into ad revenue like FAST services, the home screen and ad formats or shoppable integrations.  But the key factor cited by the analyst is that around 40% of smart TVs globally (mainly outside the U.S.) don’t have a dedicated TVOS like those being developed, meaning there’s major share still up for grabs. And Wolk noted there’s room for more than one winner in a competition for market share where small gains can be lucrative and “every half percentage point can be worth millions and millions of dollars.”

Even leading players like Roku, which continues to offer streaming sticks, has moved into building branded smart TVs, as did Amazon Fire TV, seeking to drive more than hardware sales. Earlier this year Roku CEO Anthony Wood cited improved home screen monetization (including through advertising) as one of the company’s focus areas to help drive accelerated platform revenue growth in 2025 and beyond.  Vizio, meanwhile, has seen several quarters of platform revenue growth on the back of advertising efforts, with earlier plans to license its TVOS to third-party OEMs and retail giant Walmart now pursuing a more than $2 billion acquisition of the smart TV maker.  And Xperi’s TiVo is pitching its independent TV OS in international markets, with multiple OEM partners signed on so far.

The TV OS wars are also playing out amid the continued trend of U.S. consumers increasingly turning to smart TVs as their primary streaming video device. During a separate session at the StreamTV Show, Parks Associates’ Elizabeth Parks shared data showing the rise of smart TVs in the U.S., where, as of Q1 2024, 56% said they used smart TVs most often, compared to 39% who said so in Q1 2018. Household adoption of smart TVs in the U.S. has also grown over 20 percentage points since 2019 to reach 68% in Q1 2024.  

Parks Associates smart TV adoption graph 2024
Parks Associates' Elizabeth Parks shared data on the rise of smart TVs during the StreamTV Show.  (Parks Associates)

During the TVREV-hosted panel session Katherine Pond, Group VP of Platform Content & Partnerships at Vizio, spoke about the shift away from dongles to embedded TVOS and explained why the smart TV maker in 2016 started investing more heavily in its SmartCast OS platform.

 “When you have the hardware, when you have the software, when you have the entertainment, when you have the glass, you can create a cohesive entertainment experience for consumers, and that’s something I know everyone up here is trying to do,” she said.  “And it’s really having all of those elements together, which you can’t do entirely when you have a dongle.”  

So while there are incentives for companies to focus on embedded TV software and operating systems, have these efforts risen to the attention of consumers or to the point that the OS is impacting or driving their TV purchasing decisions?

In the view of Rob Caruso, director of product management for UX at Google TV, the answer is no.

“I don’t think consumers care about the OS,” Caruso said during the StreamTV Show panel session. “I think for the most part, what still drives TV purchasing…is size and price.”

In stores, companies market TVs on those factors and not what version of the OS is running on one TV screen versus another, he noted.

That said, Caruso would be happy if consumers did take notice, adding that’s what all of the players are after.

“I would love for folks to ultimately be buying their second and third and fourth set because of the experience they have, that’s our North Star,” he said, pointing to Google’s ecosystem of devices including interoperability with branded and third party. “But the reality is I don’t think we’re there today…the average consumer that walks into a store to buy a TV, I don’t think is shopping on operating systems.”

Still, not everyone on the panel entirely agreed. Matt Durgin, VP of North America Content and Services for LG Electronics, indicated some consumers have other considerations, saying it depends on the customer. Durgin agreed with Caruso that price and size are factors in TV buying, noting there are segments of customers who focus on those aspects or on picture quality.

“But as TV manufacturers you get to make your choice, do you want to build a product that’s going to attract the customer that might be willing to pay a little bit more or do you want to build a TV that’s going to go fight in the market?” Durgin said.

As to the question of whether consumers are actually going into stores with a plan to buy Samsung's Tizen, LG's WebOS, or Google's OS, “probably not,” Durgin acknowledged. “But they know if they’re going to buy quality or if they’re going to buy value.”  

And in Pond’s view, consumers certainly care about content offered through their smart TV platform.

“If the operating system has the content that they’re looking for, that is definitely one of the core driving factors that we’ve seen in consumer studies that we’ve done,” Pond commented, where she said Vizio is aiming to ensure it has everything the user is looking for.

Aileen Del Cid, head of marketing at Samsung TV Plus (the embedded FAST service on Samsung devices), also pointed to the importance of user experience. She suggested UX control is one benefit Samsung’s seen of OS ownership “where we own the platform and we can personalize and we can add tech” and create a seamless user journey, noting the appeal of a TV user interface that can quickly serve up content viewers want to watch.

So while consumers may not yet be asking for a specific operating system as they make their TV purchases, players funneling investment into TV OS appear hopeful that with continued improvements to the user experience (including with the help of – yep – AI, more on that later), change could be coming.